Make UK/BDO survey shows industry hitting record highs as growth surge

David Little, Partner in Bishop & Sewell’s Corporate and Commercial Team

Britain’s manufacturers hit a record high level of output and orders in the last quarter as growth surged in response to the UK and overseas economies continuing to open up, according to this survey published by Make UK and business advisory firm BDO, writes David Little, a Partner in solicitors Bishop & Sewell’s Corporate & Commercial team.

Having seen a brutal 10% decline in output in 2020, the sector is now set to recover almost all that loss in 2021, with growth based on a surge in both domestic and overseas orders which is now translating into strong hiring intentions.

Domestic orders remain stronger than export orders, suggesting that there remains some impact on trade with the EU.

Investment intentions have also increased significantly, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that the introduction of the ‘super-deduction tax’ in the Budget is having some impact, together with improved growth prospects.

However, Make UK strongly criticised the recent increase in National Insurance Contributions and warned that the plans threaten to choke off this boost, as well as hitting the prospects for recruitment, especially for young people. They stress that the positive figures overall are reflecting a recovery from a very low base of record falls in output in 2020, adding that supply chain disruption and significant labour shortages are now widely evident which could impact on growth prospects for some companies through the rest of the year.

The survey also shows a significant increase in both domestic and export margins compared to Q2. While positive for manufacturers’ profits, this highlights that companies are starting to pass on increases in the cost of raw materials and shipping costs, with inflationary pressures now in the pipeline for end customers.

Stephen Phipson, Chief Executive at Make UK, said: “Growth prospects continue to accelerate for manufacturers as economies at home and abroad continue to open up. However, supply chain shortages and the rapidly escalating increase in shipping costs are threatening to put roadblocks on the road to faster growth despite the current optimism.

“Furthermore, after surviving an 18 month pandemic, the recent increase in National Insurance was the last thing that industry needed, especially when firms need capital to invest and hire. Government should be putting in place measures to protect jobs and incentivise recruitment, especially for younger people.”

Richard Austin, Head of Manufacturing at BDO, adds: “The improved levels of investment we have seen for the second quarter in a row are hugely positive and are indicative of an industry that is confident of a future worth investing in. It feels like manufacturers are finally able to build some momentum, however the new levy has the potential to disrupt plans.

“Manufacturers have proved their resilience over and over again, but big challenges remain. Increasing costs, rising inflation and the ongoing battle to attract and retain skilled workers despite positive recruitment intentions will continue to stress-test UK makers for the remainder of the year.”

According to the survey the balance on output improved to +42% from +36% in Q2 (+9% in Q1). This is the highest balance in the survey’s 30 year history. Looking forward, output is expected to continue to improve with a forecast balance of +53% in Q4, which would be another record high. Total orders also improved to +49% from +34%, with growth set to continue in Q4 with a forecasted balance of +46%. This picture was buoyed by significant growth in both UK and export orders with domestic orders increasing from +27% to +48%, while export orders increased from +22% to +37%.

David Little is a Partner in Bishop and Sewell’s Corporate & Commercial team. Should you require any further advice or assistance, please contact him on +44 (0)20 7079 4143 or email: [email protected]

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